Bringing Back the Birds: Full Life-Cycle Bird Conservation

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Published on: Aug. 15, 2014

Many Missourians enjoy watching birds in their backyards or at conservation areas, counting different species, and keeping life lists. Many also look forward to fall when hunting seasons for waterfowl and upland game birds open.

While we may think of birds that reside in our state as Missouri’s birds, in reality many of those birds are migratory and can spend nearly eight months of the year in different countries. Working with international partners on bird conservation efforts is therefore a win-win scenario — if birds don’t have the necessary resources on the wintering grounds, it directly impacts our enjoyment of those birds here at home.

To Migrate or Not to Migrate

All birds are generally considered residents or migrants. Resident birds spend all year in the same general location. Migrants include birds that breed in Missouri and then travel south for the non-breeding season to locations where insects, seeds, and fruits are readily available. The ranges of most resident birds and the migration patterns of some migrant birds are well known, especially those that spend all or part of the year within the United States and Canada. There are 431 species of both resident and migratory birds that have been observed and documented in Missouri.

Ornithologists, or bird scientists, categorize migrants into three basic subsets based on their migratory behavior: short-, medium-, and long- distance migrants. Short-distance migrants shift their ranges only slightly. For example, in the western United States, some birds migrate from higher to lower elevations from a mountaintop to a valley. In Missouri, birds may move from upland areas to bottomland habitats in search of food. Even some birds that are considered residents such as the pileated woodpecker, tufted titmouse, black-capped and Carolina chickadees, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, and northern cardinal may move slightly south to find food, but there are always a few individuals that stay put.

Medium-distance migrants may leave Missouri in the winter and move to a nearby state or several states to the south in search of food. Much of these birds’ ranges remain within the United States. This type of migration is usually in response to local weather events or lack of food. Likewise, birds that nest farther north spend the winter months in Missouri where it’s warmer. Examples of medium-distance migrants include double-crested cormorants, pied-billed grebe, turkey vultures, American woodcock, American kestrel, eastern phoebe, blue jay, house wren, American robin, brown thrasher, eastern towhee, and field sparrow.


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